Social media may have already helped you connect with friends and family, but if you’re an artist, it can also help you engage with a digital audience across the world. Brad Stephenson is an artist who uses social media platforms professionally and in his artistic practice. Brad’s next professional development course, “” happening July 17, helps artists establish strategies for connecting with their audience on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, and Pinterest. Click here to sign up for the webinar. We checked in with Brad about what he’ll be discussing in the upcoming webinar, the trends he’s following and ongoing strategies.
Alex Teplitzky: For people who aren’t familiar with you, can you introduce yourself, and tell me why you’re qualified to teach this webinar on social media for artists?
Brad Stephenson: Sure. So I’m the Director of Marketing at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) as my full-time gig. But I am a practicing artist as an actor and improviser. I am part of a monthly show that is a Dungeons and Dragons-based improvisational show at a nonprofit comedy theater in Pittsburgh called Arcade Comedy Theater.
Not only in my Director of Marketing role at the museum, but also in my comedy, improvisational and acting practice, I, obviously, use social media a lot to get the word out about events-based stuff. Basically, I would say 95% of my working and artistic life involves getting people to come somewhere. Social media has been amazing for that over the past 5 to 10 years.
I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Kentucky and I have a Master’s in Management with a Marketing emphasis from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). I worked for almost a decade with CMU before moving to the for-profit, where I worked for a health care organization running digital media. Then, before going to CMOA, I worked with an online advertising agency. So, my experience in the past 10-15 years has been directly online advertising and online communication. As social media has taken over everyone’s lives, my work has shifted to that more direct communication to people.
Alex: Which social media platforms do you go over in the webinar? Are there any new ones you’re looking at.
Brad: Absolutely. I talk about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram primarily. I also have been touching on Pinterest and Snapchat. But the platforms don’t matter as much because what I really talk about are setting goals for yourself; defining a persona; understanding how you want to communicate; with whom you want to communicate; the type of messaging and information that you want to convey; and how to build an online brand or persona as an artist.
Those things are transferable. It’s not as much about the platform. People ask all the time, with technology changing so quickly and as social media platforms become so popular only to lose popularity soon after, how is anyone supposed to keep up? If you get the fundamentals right, if you understand who you are, what you want to convey online, who your audience is, who you need to connect with, then the platform doesn’t matter, aside from learning the ins and outs of them. The primary thing is to understand who you are as an artist, the type of work you’re putting out there, and what the messaging is. It’s just like any type of marketing: there are main messages you want to share, objectives that you have for a particular event or show, then you just adjust for each platform.
When I talk about paying for ads and things like that, artists should remember that they are a viable and important business that people need in their lives.
Alex: Do you have any case studies that you gain inspiration from?
Brad: I do. I love Steve Lambert, who’s another Creative Capital professional development leader. He and I have led some onsite workshops in the past together. What I like about him is that he’s a personality, he’s not just his art. He posts things about his personal life so people get to know Steve. That provides greater context for his work. If you really understand more about him then you understand why he does this type of work. These are things that are important to him, these are the articles he’s reading. So it really deepens the connection people have with Steve.
He’s also very funny. His work is very serious in nature but it has humorous, ironic elements to it. I think he’s a great example, and one I use in my course all the time. He posts images of the back of airplane seats, or the cards in the back of airplane seats, or he posts signs that he sees in his travels, or he’ll make a joke, or post articles. It’s varied, so it keeps it interesting to follow him. While he’s working on projects, his account is active and varied. People don’t feel like he’s only communicating when he wants them to do something or participate in something or go see something.
Alex: Do you use social media as frequently as Steve?
Brad: I use social media all the time. The comedy troupe I’m a part of has specific pages and channels. I use it personally too and I’m open to accepting invitations to connect to anybody. I’m not a very private person, so I don’t mind that at all. Who I am online is who I am in person. It’s nice to live in that world. It takes time sometimes, especially for younger artists, for their online personas to match their “true” personas, and to feel comfortable and confident about that.
Alex: The reason I ask is to speak to the range of people who are interested in this course. There are the people who are already on all the platforms and are just looking to keep up to date and for tricks of the trade. Then there are people who aren’t on any of the platforms and see each social media platform as just one more job for them to do on top of their already busy lives.
Brad: Right. I always say it’s better to do one platform really well than four platforms half-baked. You should really understand the time that you are able to commit and only do as much as you’re able to do in a very engaging way. It’s OK to cross-post sometimes, I don’t advocate for having a Twitter account just to repost everything you post on Instagram. I think there should be some variety.
It’s important for people to think of themselves as a business. It’s icky sometimes for artists to do that. But I always ask, would you rather see somebody’s beautiful artwork mentioning their upcoming gallery show, or would you rather see some new underwear ad? This question comes up when artists wonder whether sponsored posts for artists feels gross. You’re going to see ads anyways, so which ads would your audience rather see? Being relevant to your audience is important.
To the original point, when I talk about paying for ads and things like that, artists should remember that they are a viable and important business that people need in their lives.
Too often, people feel like if they talk about themselves too much, or they pay for any ads on social media, that people are going to be turned off. Artists don’t like to self-promote. But if you were selling any kind of gadget, you’d be out there promoting it, pounding the pavement and letting people know about it. That’s the way artists need to think of themselves: I am my own business. I’m self-employed, I’m producing work for people to consume, whether it’s buying it, or coming to an event or opening. Artists operate as businesses.
That’s a very long-winded way of me saying: make the time. Set a schedule for yourself. There are scheduling tools available for you to post a certain amount of times throughout the day. Sprout Social, which is a paid service, and there are free services like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. Or you can even use an Excel spreadsheet to plan your posts a week ahead, and at various points throughout your day copy and post them. It’s incredibly important—especially if you’re ramping up to gallery shows or a performance—it’s incredibly important to tell those behind-the-scenes stories.
Don’t do more than you think you can handle, but once you decide what you can handle, really stick to it. Think of it as your daily business. The marketing of your work is almost as important as the artwork as you’re making.